Radway family ranches, farms and provides water to a community
March 10, 2014
The availability of good water was always the key.
In August of 1973 Arlie Radway bought a ranch south of Plainview, S.D., that he, his wife Gretchen and son Jason still manage today. Arlie and Gretchen were married in June of 1974 and moved into the house on the place at that time.
A spring blizzard in 1975 was one of the first of many challenges they faced together, and still stands out in their memories. "Oh, I remember just getting by on a shoestring budget," said Arlie. "Our first tractor was a John Deere 2510 with an old Farmhand loader that was kind of loose in the joints. It was real interesting around here at times. There were years when we had to wean the calves three or four times. But gradually we got more water developed and the trees grew up out west here and we got some corrals built that you could do something in."
In 2005 the Radways dug an artesian well on their place. "We were at a party and this neighbor said he was going to dig an artesian well at a substantial cost. On the way home I said to my wife 'This guy must be crazy, he's gonna spend all this money for a big hole in the ground.' Well, long story short, we were digging our own hole a year later and spending more than he did to do it. I think he's happy that he dug his and I'm certainly happy I dug mine. We feel that the artesian well has brought more success than anything. Well, more work anyway."
The Radways sell water through the Plainview Water Cooperative to area ranchers and homeowners, but the artesian well and Jason's return to the place in 2005 enabled Arlie to pursue what could easily be called his passion in life, cattle finishing.
The Radways grow almost all the sileage, hay, straw, corn and peas that go into the rations, purchasing dried distillers grains and mineral. They roll their own corn and peas, and own a small hay grinder that they can use early and late in the season if they need a few more days worth of ground hay. The cattle are fed twice a day with a feed mixer wagon. "This year, we've been averaging 98 percent choice or prime grade, with over 20 percent prime, and we've got the yield grade fours down to ten or fifteen percent." He attributes the quality of his fed cattle to a number of factors, including shelterbelts, more space per animal than the industry average, and repeated sorting. "We'll sort this pen out here at least five times," he says. "We feel that that's a key to success; sorting close."
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They started adding the peas three years ago. "We've seen some research from NDSU that suggests that cattle do better if they have peas in their ration."
Fighting footrot in his feeder cattle in the early years made Arlie a believer in footrot vaccinations. "You give them one shot, it really helps; you give them two, it just about eliminates footrot. Before, we had ten to fifteen percent pulls for footrot; that's expensive, it takes time, and the cattle don't gain while they're fighting it. That's one shot that works and we feel pays for itself."
When the cattle are finished, they are sold to the Cargill plant in Ft. Morgan Colo, on the Angus America grid. "We sent loads to all the packers around the area in the beginning, but Cargill and the Angus America grid have been treating us better than the others."
Cattle on the Angus America grid have to be predominantly black-hided. Cattle of other colors can be sold with them in small percentages, but they are not eligible for the Certified Angus Beef premium, so Arlie doesn't buy many cattle of other colors.
"The biggest disadvantage to finishing cattle here is that we're so far away from the packers. There's several good packing houses, and they're all about 400 miles away. Also, out here we're a little farther from feed sources like distillers grains. But with more people growing corn out here, we feel we can be competitive. We think corn is here to stay."
The Radways also have a small commercial cow-calf herd, fed in the winter with the feed mixer. "I like to feed them about half of what they'd like and make them go find the rest." The Radways replacement heifers are exposed for 21 days, to start calving the first of April. "Yeah, when the season is that short you get a few opens, but we didn't catch that many more leaving the bull out longer. We just expose more heifers and take our lumps." The cows start calving the ninth of April. "We mostly just calve on the range now, and it takes a lot less work." Asked if they have trouble farming with a late calving season, Arlie says, "well Jason does most of the farming, maybe if I had to do it it would be different, but we don't feel that the later calving interferes with our other work." Because of economies of scale, the Radways sell their home-raised steers at the local sale barn, usually in January.
"We used to have a sawmill guy come out once or twice a year and mill logs from we cut on the place, and I used to take logs into the Hills to have milled. It looked like a lot of fun." An interest in milling wood cut on their place prompted Arlie and Jason to buy their own portable sawmill a few years ago. "We've got a lot of woodworking tools in the shop, and it's just kind of fun to make things out of your own wood. We've made everything from corral lumber to cedar and ash cabinets, all from local lumber." Jason made all of the cabinets for his own house which he finished last year. "I like to go out when it's muddy on a spring day and cut up the logs I've collected all winter. Put it this way, I never had a snowmobile, so this is what I do."
Arlie has one horse, a paint Quarter Horse named DJ. "We never raised horses or anything, and I just keep one kinda dependable horse around. When the kids were little we had a few more. I tell people when I die, I wanna come back as my horse, he's got it pretty good. He works about half a day a few times a year and sits in the sun the rest of the time. I like riding, but time you get the horse caught, you could have the job done."
"Yeah, I'd say every venture I've gotten into was something I was interested in and I thought had a little profit in it, or at least I had to try it. We had sheep for four or five years, and we had hogs before that went to the mega-farms. We grew mostly wheat 'til Jason got out of school, trying to get more productivity out of some of the ground."
Arlie is quick to admit the help he's gotten. "We couldn't have done this without my mom and dad, and a guy I used to work for, Clark Morrison, and our neighbors Larry and Mary Kay Sandal and others, they kind of supported us and watched out for us."
"We used to anguish over little things a lot," says Arlie. "Like if we'd lose a calf, maybe we weren't watching close enough and a calf died, we'd anguish over it quite a bit because well, we needed the money and we weren't looking at it right. You're not going to have all your calves and there's just not much you can do about that."
When asked how they get along working together father, mother and son have a good laugh. "It's a challenge, I'll tell you. Jason is more into the farming, he's from a different generation. I'm more into the cattle side, and I'm kinda set in my ways, so it's a challenge. But it's more good than bad."
Arlie's advice for young people is unexpected but practical. "I've thought about that a bit. I guess my biggest piece of advice to young people starting out here is to plant all the trees you can afford to plant when you're young. Plant all the trees you can take care of, put a fence around 'em and take care of 'em. The little bit of ground they'll take will make the rest of your ground that much more valuable and you'll never miss it. I don't think we could have done what we're doing, the feeding, if we hadn't planted the trees we had. We should have planted more."
The Radways are optimistic about the next few years in agriculture. Jason is in demand in the region as a custom farmer, and things are looking up on the cattle side as well. "We gonna breed a few more heifers this year, try to expand a bit, and we're looking forward to some good years with water in the dams and good cattle prices."